Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York

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Gillibrand Pushes Forward on Cutting Red-Tape to Rid NYC Airports of Bird Strikes Now That Public Comment Period to USDA’s Environmental Study Has Ended

With Molting Season For Geese Starting This Week, Gillibrand Urges Feds to Issue Bird Removal Permits Immediately in Letter to Interior Secretary Salazar, Calls for Final Study to Be Adopted By End of June

June 14, 2012

Washington, DC – With molting season for geese expected to start later this week and only last until mid-July, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today urged U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to move forward immediately and take action to protect New York City airports from bird strikes. In April, after Gillibrand introduced federal legislation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued its final environmental impact study laying out a combination of lethal and non-lethal methods for reducing the risk of bird strikes at JFK airport. The 30-day public comment period for the proposal ended earlier this week, which allows the USDA to move forward on adopting the plan. To cut through bureaucratic red-tape, Gillibrand urged Secretary Salazar to quickly issue new permits for the removal of geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge which pose a public safety risk at major New York airports once the study is formally accepted.   

In addition, Gillibrand also requested the expedited removal of 200 geese at two landfill areas along the Jamaica Bay shoreline, which the Interior Department has done in previous years and already has the existing authority to carry out. Gillibrand introduced federal legislation last month to reduce bird strikes that was adopted into the underlying 2012 Farm Bill that passed the Agriculture Committee. 

To help the Interior Department move the process forward, Senator Gillibrand urged the USDA to adopt its comprehensive plan before the end of this month, which would allow the agency to take action during the critical molting period when geese are flightless. 

 

“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before cutting through bureaucratic red tape between federal agencies,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Now that the USDA has issued its proposal and the public has had an opportunity to have their voices heard, we cannot and should not wait another day to act while public safety is at risk.” 

 

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to Secretary Salazar, “I urge you to take action before the end of June to issue permits to remove 200 geese at the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfills.  Additionally, it is my understanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue a Record of Decision on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Bird Strike Hazard Reduction at John F. Kennedy International Airport by July 1.  Once a Record of Decision is issued, I also urge you to immediately issue permits to begin the process of culling additional geese on the applicable National Park Service land before the end of the 2012 molting period… I am committed to working with your department, and all of the federal agencies involved, on the implementation of a variety of management activities, including lethal and non-lethal activities, to ensure that the safety of the flying public is protected in a way that is consistent with the mission of Gateway National Recreation Area and protects the environment, character, and natural beauty of Jamaica Bay.” 

 

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to USDA Administrator Dr. Gregory Parham, “Thank you for taking the time to discuss with me the issue of Canada Goose strikes in New York and APHIS’ role in issuing a Record of Decision on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Bird Hazard Reduction Program, JFK International Airport.  As I stated in our discussion, it is imperative that a Record of Decision is issued before the end of June, and I urge you to make every effort to meet that deadline.” 

 

Since the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in 2009 where US Airways Captain Sully Sullenberger made a heroic water landing protecting the lives of all 155 passengers and crew onboard shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport due to a bird strike, the problem has not been fully addressed by federal authorities. In April 2012, a Los Angeles-bound Delta Airlines flight was forced into an emergency return to JFK Airport shortly after takeoff due to bird strike. According to news reports, LaGuardia and JFK airports saw increases in bird strikes of 28% and 53%, respectively, between 2009 and 2011.  

 

The molting period for Canada geese starts in mid-June and lasts through mid-July.  The Department of the Interior currently has the authority through its U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service permits to remove an estimated 200 geese in two landfill areas – Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue – along the Jamaica Bay shoreline. Senator Gillibrand urged the agency to take action and begin removal as soon as possible. 

 

The final decision on the USDA’s environmental impact study, which examines effective, safe ways to reduce bird strikes, is set to be issued in the coming weeks, leaving a window of approximately 15 days to remove additional geese at Gateway National Park. Senator Gillibrand urged the Interior Department to work expeditiously with the USDA in issuing permits needed to remove the additional geese during that period once the study is finalized. 

 

The National Park Service, which manages the wildlife refuge, has cited the need for the completion of this study before allowing USDA workers to remove birds from the refuge area. 

 

After the heroic landing of Capt. Sully Sullenberger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Park Service vowed to address the public safety problem posed by Canada geese residing at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. More than three years later, the problem continues to pose safety risks to flights departing New York airports.

 

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Interior Secretary Salazar is below:

Dear Secretary Salazar, 

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me regarding the continued threat to aircraft safety posed by Canada Geese residing at Gateway National Recreation Area in New York, and for your leadership and attention to this issue.

As we discussed, I urge you to take action before the end of June to issue permits to remove 200 geese at the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfills.  Additionally, it is my understanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue a Record of Decision on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Bird Strike Hazard Reduction at John F. Kennedy International Airport by July 1.  Once a Record of Decision is issued, I also urge you to immediately issue permits to begin the process of culling additional geese on the applicable National Park Service land before the end of the 2012 molting period. 

Recent bird strikes on aircraft taking off from New York’s major airports once again highlighted the urgency of this issue.  Since the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, New Yorkers have been waiting for a comprehensive and long-term solution to the threat posed by Canada Geese residing near our airports.  While I am dismayed that it has taken more than three years to complete the necessary review and analysis of alternatives, I am encouraged by the willingness of your Department and the other cooperating agencies to complete the environmental review process and begin implementation of the proposed action, including the culling of Canada Geese, before the conclusion of the 2012 molting period for Canada Geese. 

I understand that culling of Canada Geese is one component of a comprehensive solution to the bird strike problem, and I am committed to working with your department, and all of the federal agencies involved, on the implementation of a variety of management activities, including lethal and non-lethal activities, to ensure that the safety of the flying public is protected in a way that is consistent with the mission of Gateway National Recreation Area and protects the environment, character, and natural beauty of Jamaica Bay. 

Thank you for your consideration of this critical request, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on this and other issues of importance to New Yorkers.